On January 12, Foreign Policy Studies and the Wolfensohn Center for Development at the Brookings Institution hosted a workshop to examine Development in Fragile States: The Toughest Cases. The event engaged experts in a discussion of how the U.S. and its partners can more effectively sustain development in autocratic states and states in transition.
The cyclical outcomes of poverty pose a direct and immediate challenge to global stability. Extreme poverty has been both cause and consequence of state weakness, undermining the basic unit of the international system. Poverty can erode a state’s ability to exercise good governance, undercut human capital, ignite grievances about inequalities, and challenge individual freedom and dignity. Poor and poorly-governed states are, by definition, the least able to safeguard the well-being of their own citizens and to fit cooperatively into a community of nations.
Abandoning fragile states to a fate of chronic poverty is hardly an option. Transnational terrorist networks, emerging infectious diseases, global climate change, and raging conflicts have made aid to fragile states a growing security priority in addition to a humanitarian imperative. Already much attention has focused on fostering development in, on the one side, countries with strong democratic foundations and, on the other, states embroiled in conflict.
But states in the middle — those transitioning from conflict and those ruled by corrupt, authoritarian regimes — present perhaps the greater challenge. A pressing question arises: what instruments are available to policymakers to promote sustainable development in these states? A related challenge is how to promote governance reform in post-conflict states, where economic development lags without basic security and political stability. In this time of economic crisis, the risk that weak states will decline into failed states has become even greater. These states in the middle should not be neglected.